Since it was the first day of school, Olivia’s brother Jake gave us a ride, and as he slid into an empty space in the parking lot, Emma Cho, a wildly enthusiastic cheerleader who’d been trying more or less since birth to make Jake her boyfriend, hurled herself at us so violently that for a second I thought Jake had hit her with the car. But the blinding smile she flashed Jake as we got out and the “He-ey, Jake!” she sang to him made it seem unlikely she’d just been rammed by his Honda.
“Hey,” he answered. Jake was a senior, and really good-looking and he was on the football team, so while Emma might have been the most determined, she was hardly the only girl who was madly in love with him. He and his best friend Calvin Taylor, who was the QB, should have listed beating girls off with a stick as an extracurricular activity on their college applications. Jake hugged Emma back, but he didn’t linger, just said “See ya” to all of us and headed over to join a bunch of senior guys who were standing near the edge of the parking lot. When he did that, Emma looked briefly forlorn, then threw her arms around Olivia.
“Hi, Livs!” Her red-and-white cheerleading skirt flared out above her knees. High, high above her knees.
“Hey, Emma,” said Olivia, hugging her back. Right after we got the ax from NYBC, Olivia started teaching a dance class for at-risk girls at this rec center in Newark where her mom’s on the board. A lot of people from our high school satisfied their community service requirement there—including the cheerleaders—and sometimes Olivia had lunch with the squad on Saturdays after they taught their classes. That my best friend regularly hung out with cheerleaders was one of the great mysteries of my life.
“Zoe!” Emma squealed, hurling herself at me when her hug with Olivia came to an end.
“Oh. Hey. I mean, hi. Hi, Emma.” I patted her awkwardly on the back. The cheerleaders were always nice enough to me, but I couldn’t help feeling like they saw me as this weird birth defect of Olivia’s, something she would have been wise to have removed but for some reason chose to live with.
“I still can’t believe you guys didn’t try out for cheer squad last spring,” Emma said, stepping out of my lackluster embrace and shaking her head in amazement.
“I couldn’t. Soccer,” I answered immediately, even though after one awful season as the world’s worst soccer player, I’d dropped it.
“Dance class,” said Livvie.
Emma made a pouty face. “But we do the tumbling class and we cheer. You could do both.”
“I know!” said Olivia, ignoring Emma’s implied criticism. “You guys are awesome.”
I smiled vaguely.
Placated by Olivia’s praise, Emma waved good-bye to us, made Olivia promise to have lunch with the squad on Saturday, then skittered off to join her fellow cheerleaders. As I watched her go, I spotted Bethany and Lashanna. They waved at me and I waved back. I’d been nervous that they’d be mad when I didn’t go out for soccer again this year, but they’d seemed to understand.
Taking Livvie by the hand, I started walking toward them, but she pulled me back, reaching into her bag and pulling out her phone. “Wait a sec.”
I groaned but stayed put while Livvie fussed with her phone, then swiped at a lock of heavy blond hair that had dropped over her eyes. Until last summer I’d also had long hair, though my hair is so black it’s almost blue. But the day after we were thrown out of NYBC, Livvie came with me to Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow and watched me get approximately three feet of hair chopped off my head. When the woman asked if I wanted to take a lock to remember it by, I just stared at her like, Why would I want to remember my hair?
No more dance. No more soccer. I shivered slightly. My parents and my guidance counselor were on my case to pick an extracurricular activity and to pick it fast. I’d played some tennis up at my grandparents’ this summer, but was I seriously going to try out for the tennis team like I’d told my parents I might? Livvie slipped her arm around my waist, and we stood shoulder to shoulder as she held the camera up at face level. “Say, ‘Olivia is so cheesy.’”
Glad to be pulled out of my thoughts, I repeated, “Olivia is so cheesy,” and she snapped the picture. To say Livvie had dealt better than I had with our being dumped from NYBC would be an understatement. Sometimes I wondered if the secret to being well-adjusted wasn’t blond hair.
“Nice,” she said, angling the screen toward me. Livvie and I were almost exactly the same height—five seven—so our faces were right next to each other. Olivia was grinning widely, her dimple pronounced, her eyes sparkling.
“You look like a prom queen,” I told her. “I’m all ‘Take me to your leader.’” I have big eyes, which I’d always known but which I hadn’t fully appreciated were quite so enormous until I got my pixie cut. I looked exactly like a cartoon drawing of an alien.
“You’re beautiful. Your eyes are seriously awesome. No joke.” She hip-checked me absently, still studying the screen. “Am I crazy or do I have a picture of you wearing this exact same shirt?”
I glanced at the cap sleeve of my dark blue T-shirt. “That’s impossible. I’ve never worn this shirt before.”
“Hmmm . . .” Livvie bit her upper lip and stared at the image, then shrugged. “Well, whatever.” She dropped her phone into her bag, took me by the hand, and led me toward the front steps of Wamasset High, so named because on this site a proud tribe of Wamasset Indians made their last stand against a group of British settlers who were ultimately successful in their attempt to brutally exterminate every last one of them.
“Do you think it’s comforting to the dead Wamasset that the descendants of their murderers attend a high school named in their honor?” I asked.
Livvie’d been trying to get me to have a more positive outlook on life, and now she turned around and pointed her finger at me threateningly. “Stop that.”
I held my hands up in a gesture of surrender, and we headed into the lobby. The noise was deafening. Bethany and Lashanna weren’t anywhere to be seen, but half a dozen cheerleaders were, including Stacy Shaw—one of the captains of the cheerleading squad—and Jake’s would-be girlfriend Emma.
STACY: (Screaming.) Aaaaah!
EMMA: (Also screaming.) Aaaaah!
STACY: (Wails.) I wish you’d gotten captain. (She bursts into tears.)
EMMA: (Also bursting into tears.) Staaaaaaay!
EMMA: I love you so much.
STACY: I love you so much. (They continue to embrace, weeping.)
Olivia and I made eye contact. “You regularly lunch with those people,” I pointed out.
“They’re not as bad once you get to know them,” she insisted.
“Let me guess: That’s what you tell them about me, right?”
Laughing, we turned out of the lobby and down the two hundreds corridor. When we got to my homeroom, Livvie hugged me good-bye.
“Fortress after school, right?” she asked, even though odds were we’d have at least a couple of classes together.
“Right,” I agreed. As I hugged her back, I realized something. “Hey, Livs,” I said, pulling away. “You’re not just my best friend—you’re my extracurricular activity.”
Livvie pressed her hands to her chest and got a dreamy expression on her face. “I’ve always longed to be an extracurricular activity.” Then she kissed me lightly on the cheek and headed down the corridor. “Love ya,” she called over her shoulder.
“Love ya,” I called back.
I stepped into the classroom, nervous for a second that no one I hung out with would be in homeroom with me, but then I saw Bethany. She saw me, too, grinned, and moved her bag off the desk next to hers. Grinning back at her, I made my way across the room. Just as the bell rang I slipped into my seat, and then Ms. Evans raised her head from the papers she’d been shuffling on her desk, walked over to the door, and shut it. She looked around the room at all of us as we slowly got quiet. “Welcome, everyone!” she announced, the tight curls of her perm bobbing as she nodded and smiled at us. “I hope you all had a wonderful summer.”
It was official: junior year had begun.